Skeuomorphism vs. Material Design: When and Why?

In the digital world there are two dominant styles of design: Skeuomorphism and Material Design. These two design principles are important to understand to optimize a digital business. Each has its strengths and weaknesses and implementation depends on the context of the business.

Skeuomorphism is the “art of recreating and mimicking real objects as the backbone of your UX design1.” Perhaps the most obvious example of Skeuomorphism in original Apple products is the Notes app design. It originally had a light-yellow background, lines across the page mimicking an actual notebook, and a dark leather outline of what looked like a fancy carrying case2. Skeuomorphism delicately intertwines the digital and physical world in a way to make consumers feel comfortable. It does so by incorporating new technologies that digitally integrate real world elements. One of the most notable examples is Microsoft’s way of organizing files. Files can be dragged and dropped into small manila folder icons. These digital folders represent their real-world counterpart. When the original iPhone unveiled its design, it moved away from the contemporary UX design which detached digital experiences from the physical world as much as possible. In contrast, the iPhone’s UX design made it friendly, appealing, and welcoming to use, even to people who weren’t as up to date in the digital world.

As evolution continued Google championed a new perspective in UX design in the early 2010’s; Material Design. Its mission is to “create a visual language that synthesizes classic principles of good design with the innovation and possibility of technology and science1.” Material Design uses the consumer’s understanding of physical reality to augment the digital journey into a powerful and easy to follow experience. For example, in figures 2 and 3 there are distinct differences. The figure 2 shows the Skeuomorphic, bookshelf design of the iBooks app and the figure 3 shows the current Material Design.

Notice the change from the wood texture and obvious shelves to minimalist organization. The latter Material Design example organizes the books into condensed groups with little distraction from the background. Current trends and consumer behavior show that consumers currently prefer the sleeker Material Design.

So, which is best for your business? That all depends on who your customers are, what you offer, and how you want your message to be received. Before implementing a new them to an existing website or creating a completely new one, here are some things to consider:

Design with the end in mind– The end goal of every website is either to convert and educate consumers. the best way to do this is to envision what the customer will be looking for, then build backwards from there.

Keep it simple– As stated before, both Skeuomorphism and Material Design are tools to appeal to customers. Don’t be tempted to over complicate customer journeys because of sleek functionalities of a new website.

Find your fit– Let your audience decide what kind of themes should be present in your digital experiences. Don’t be afraid to ask for customer feedback and tweak your design.

Understanding basic design principles is important when designing a website. The best websites are designed deliberately and each component is calculated. Here at the Good Life Consulting we excel at analyzing, designing, and optimizing digital experiences.